Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sexy Faculties, and the McEducators?

The Alberta Government has (been forced to?) cut its funding to universities, investments are in peril, and so, faculties and departments across campus have been asked to tighten their belts. Along with the president of our faculty association, I cannot help but wonder whether the burdens imposed by the university's current financial situation are being felt evenly across campus. Has each faculty been asked to deal with the same financial constraints and to make the same hard decisions?

In Education, we have had several meetings about how to bring revenue and expenses closer together in order to balance the budget. Thank you to our Dean who is making this process as transparent as possible.

As we address the "spending problem" that appears to plague this Faculty, all manner of expenses are being scrutinized for potential efficiencies, including administrative overhead, staffing and workloads, release time and research, academic program offerings and class sizes. On the other side of the equation, new forms of revenue are being considered, current forms of revenue are being analyzed for increased potential, and good ideas are emerging across departments. Revenue generation and reduced spending have become the new normal for higher education in these uncertain economic times.

One by-product of these discussions about finances has been debate about the relative "valuation" of different disciplines and faculties across campus. Is the teaching and research done in certain faculties and departments "more valuable" than that done in others? Who decides? And, does the money flow in certain, and perhaps predictable, pathways on campus?

In these perilous economic times, I worry that the Faculty of Education and education professors are going to be written off as the McFaculty by others on campus. When administration gets a 6% increase in funding from the province, and sends a 0% increase to the Faculty of Education, what does that say about our "value" to the menu of offerings on campus?

I want to share one small story to illustrate my concern. In the context of a discussion about research funding, and how much a faculty member in education is "worth" versus a faculty member in engineering or medicine, a colleague mused that the valuation of these two types of professors is "very different" given the willingness of industry to invest in R&D. When pushed, this colleague admitted that it would cost "much much more" to fund an engineering professor's research and teaching time than an education professor's time. Wow. I have rarely felt so discouraged and so disappointed in the same instant.

As an educational technologist, I study and tend to admire inventors and designers of new systems and products; I appreciate how new technologies both improve our world and also bring new challenges. However, I also wonder whether it is appropriate and wise to rank engineering and the health sciences higher than education, and the social sciences, on campus. Why is there 9 NSERC dollars invested for every 1 SSHRC dollar? What makes engineering so sexy for research funding and endowments? It certainly isn't the engineers... (!) Okay, that was uncalled for...

The bias of the national funding agencies, like CIHR, NSERC and SSHRC, tend to be reflected in how different faculties are "valued", and therefore funded, on campus. Industry and government sponsored funding agencies still pour buckets of money into engineering, science and the health sciences, and I suspect that campuses follow suit. A miserly trickle of funding barely addresses the thirst in education, the social sciences and the humanities.

I believe that teachers and researchers in the Faculty of Education change the world for the better. As an education professor, I work with enthusiastic and innovative beginning teachers who inject new blood in the teaching profession; new teachers who cultivate creative and inspirational ideas in their classrooms; scholarly and dedicated young professionals who make a difference in their communities. Idealistically, I still believe that when you teach a child, you change the world; when you educate a beginning teacher, the potential impact of this work is exponential.

Education professors work closely with graduate students who are designing, developing and evaluating innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Through individual research, through the academic journals we publish, through the collaborative work we pursue with colleagues, and along with the graduate researchers we supervise, education professors create new knowledge and ideas about what makes teaching and learning work well, how to change present systems and policies and governance, and how to design innovative new processes as technological, social, cultural, political and economic systems change our world.

I believe professors in education make a positive difference in the world; first, through the teachers we graduate and the children whose lives they touch, and second, through the research we conduct and the new knowledge that we contribute to the world. However, despite the role education plays in the world, is a challenge to attract government or industry's attention, let alone their research funding for the Faculty of Education - society continues to need more and better teachers each year, education professors, along with our colleagues in social science and humanities, continue to study and investigate ever more complex learning needs and problems faced by an ever more diverse and global society, and we face greater hurdles than ever in funding our programs. In these perilous economic times, will we see government, industry and public re-investments in education? As we make tough financial decisions on campus, what will be the impact on the already beleaguered Faculty of Education?

"Welcome to teacher preparation and graduate research! Can I take your order?"

"Do you want fries with your BEd?"

"How about an apple pie with that MEd or PhD?"


Thank you, please come again.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First and Second Life Technology Stumbles

In my first life, I am a person who uses and loves technology - and I still find myself stumbling around at times as if I am a brand new user. When you think about it, given the explosive rate of change in digital media and the many new systems, tools and devices coming on the market each week, that is the stark reality - we are all newbies at something to do with digital technology. A few stories about how tricky technology can be for even the most comfortable of users.

My second life avatar is Michele Helgerud. I regularly meet "in-world" with my doctoral student, who is creating an augmented reality game about climate change in Second Life, in the same virtual world. SL is a 3-D virtual world created by its residents that has grown explosively since its creation in 2003. Today, Second Life is inhabited by millions of Residents from around the globe.

I am only slightly embarrassed to admit that I forgot my SL password and could only use Second Life on my office computer. The reason? I used an automatic "remember my" password feature for the past year. When I cleaned up my cookies, I seemed to lose my password - there is a lesson here. After failing the email and web-based approach, I retrieved my Second Life password using the telephone. A very helpful young woman with a dutch accent walked me through the web-based process to login to change my password. I found this interaction ironic -- I ended up having to use the phone to contact a teenager to get my password to this amazing 3D world that I had been flying around in during the last year.

Over the Christmas - New Year break, my sister and I, fellow techno-pedagogical bibliophiles, went to a popular movie based on the first book in a popular series. I normally gravitate away from vampire stuff, but a colleague told me that Twilight was a good movie. Inspired by this cheeky love story, my sister and I drove to Chapters to buy the books after the show. We tracked down 3 of the 4 books, and I approached the computer to look up whether the last book was in stock. After typing in a query, I couldn't figure out what to do next. No Mouse. My sister, who hasn't spent the last 15 years of her life researching and teaching educational technology, but uses a computer all day every day in her two careers, just reached over my shoulder and said, "Duh, it's a touch screen silly". Of course...

My son, who is an avid gamer, taught me better ways to navigate my iPod. True, I did spend an hour trying to figure it out by logging into iTunes, downloading a few free podcasts, and dropping some music files on board. However, what caught my interest, in a way similar to observing children in any K-12 classroom that has technology readily available, was the intuitive and playful nature in which my child interacted with this digital device -- my son played around with the iPod and got it to play music in about 30 seconds. What had taken me a full hour in my office, took a 4 year old pre-schooler less than a minute.

I have several reasons for sharing these stories: (i) people who regularly use advanced digital technologies still find themselves stumbling around at times as if they are a brand new user, (ii) the number of digital systems, tools and devices increases weekly at an exponential rate, and we cannot keep up, (iii) individuals are all newbies at something to do with digital technology, and therefore we need to draw upon each other's diverse experiences with technology, and (iv) children who grow up with technology have an intuitive sense of interaction with these systems, tools and devices, and we can learn a great deal from them if we cheerfully, enthusiastically and openly accept that they know more than us.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I don't know how or if I do it...

Balance work and family, that is.

Given that I am committed to both my family and my career, and love both, it takes some major strategic planning and sheer bloody-mindedness to organize my life and to believe that I am balancing the demands of family and career.

Some things that seem to help at home:

- Prepare something for the crockpot and set up the coffee maker the night before
- Make big meals so there are leftovers for lunch and another meal
- Throw a load of laundry in the machine before supper and in the dryer after
- Fold and put away dry clothes before bed
- Scrub the toilet, or windex mirrors, while the kids are in the bathtub
- Handle paper only once, then throw it in recycling or file it
- Clean the kitchen right after supper, and shine the sink
- Write daily and weekly task schedules
- Getting up at 5 am to work for an hour or two before the kids wake up
- Buy precut veggies for meals and lunches
- Declutter or tidy while on the phone
- Organize, give away or toss clothes, magazines and toys often

With children and husbands:

- Family meals at the table, as often as possible
- Ongoing communication
- Hug and kiss everybody at least 5 times each day, preferably more
- Always say I love you to everybody before I leave the house
- Leave love notes around, in lunch packs, on mirrors
- Call often to stay in touch with my "pack"
- Play dates, a Babysitter and Date nights
- Play time everyday
- Organized sports

At work:

- Hang out with the cool, fun and smart people ;-), which is easy to do in my job!!
- Take care of the big tasks first, set priorities
- Avoid dead-end meetings or committees
- Write and read every week (harder than you might think...)
- Limit time on email or phone
- Closing office door when big projects are due
- A good filing system, and ongoing decluttering
- Tubs for each course or big task
- A sign out system for books
- Water plants and tidy desk at least once a week
- Lunch with friends, and make new friends
- A paper day-timer that only I write in (online ones get fuller faster somehow)
- Delegate and share the work, because there is too much for any one person

Just for me:

- Eat breakfast every day, even if its in my car
- Drink water and take vitamins
- Read every night before bed, and early each morning
- A weekly designer coffee
- Hitting my favorite consignment stores
- A movie with a girlfriend or sister
- Buy books online
- Composting and gardening
- My iPod
- Reading my favorite blogs and magazines